Non-Fungible Tokens: Athan Slotkin of The Shadow On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry
An Interview With Tyler Gallagher
Plan out how NFTs will fit within what you do. People want to buy NFTs from entities that will have continued relevance/commitment to the NFT space. Determine where NFTs fit within your overall strategy.
Many have observed that we are at the cusp of an NFT boom. The thing is, it’s so cutting edge, that many people don’t know what it is. What exactly is an NFT and how can one create a lucrative career out of selling them? To address this, as a part of our interview series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Athan Slotkin.
Athan Slotkin is an American business strategist, entrepreneur, and former professional poker player. Slotkin is CEO and lead of The Shadow CEO, a small-business strategy consulting firm that coaches entrepreneurs to implement successful business strategies. Slotkin graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor’s in Art and received a Master’s in Business Administration from Yale University; he financed his education through poker, quickly advancing to the professional level.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?
I grew up in Long Island, NY, and for as long as I can remember, was pushed to be an entrepreneur. When I was younger, even after I started working day jobs, I was always starting up and creating new businesses. I’ve tried all sorts of things in all sorts of industries. Some were super successful, others I started down the pathway and didn’t like what I saw so changed course. Now, I live in Santa Monica, CA, still always beginning new business ventures.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I’m not a huge reader; I’m more of a video and audio type of person. But one book that did really resonate with me a lot was the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. My biggest takeaway was learning to come up with your own values and using that guide for what you do. You decide the parameters by which you live and then everything you do becomes internally driven. It’s certainly true for an individual but also for companies, whatever size, and stage they’re in. As a company having strong values by which you stand for gives you a crystal-clear sense of who you are and your own “north star” to follow.
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in this new industry? We’d love to hear it.
Having always started new businesses, I’ve seen a lot, the ins, and the outs. I’m very good at quickly distilling business opportunities and scenarios, then figuring out if there’s actually something substantial there and consequently, which direction to pivot in. My strongest skill set is processing what’s going on in the world — in the wider world, macroeconomy, etc. — and connecting that to a given idea, in this case, the NFT business.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
I don’t know if I have one particular story, more so, every day feels like an ongoing journey. Every day I wake up to find and prioritize the top opportunities that exist and make sure those opportunities aren’t too far off the core path. I figure out from an infinite variety of options, what the best choice is. As entrepreneurs, every day we’re just making decisions and choices with ambiguity and seeing where it takes us to in the next stage. An entrepreneur’s pathway is never really finished; it’s an ongoing path and business. It’s one wild, interesting roller coaster that hasn’t finished yet and I’m still a work in progress.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It might not be the funniest, but I’ve been guilty of this mistake. Entrepreneurs, especially first-timers, often think they have this next level, clairvoyant idea and because of that, they think they must accomplish the job quickly. There’s lots of room for mistakes with rushing a project, but those mistakes will try to get covered up by using “beta”. Startup companies will put “beta” on top of their product and because they do that, they’re exonerated from getting any blame in case something goes wrong. For example, we saw that recently with NBA Top Shot where they intentionally added “beta” to not get pushback, but the fact is that, despite doing so, people were annoyed for a very long time with the glitches and other issues. I’ve made the mistake of stressing out my team and myself to get something out that was too mediocre and half-baked.
Entrepreneurs think they must get things done and out immediately or the opportunity is gone. There’s a little truth to that but the parody of doing so is they end up getting bested by an entrepreneur who takes their time and gets something out in a really clean, solid fashion. I advise the slower method. It doesn’t need to be 100% solid when you finally do release your product, so you can still get feedback, but it should be something reasonably solid so customers can actually feel pleased with what you’re doing.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My favorite people that exist are entrepreneurs or people older than I am who are willing to share the mistakes they’ve made and the failures they’ve had. But also, I don’t really think there’s something like a failure that exists. One may “fail” with a business they’re starting, but you always end up learning from the experience. For example, in the NFT space, one artist may decide to release something and not get a great response but might get feedback on what it is their audience thinks is missing with the product they’re putting out. They learn from it all. I thank all older, experienced entrepreneurs who openly share their failures. By talking about them, it makes them more reasonable. When starting a business, from the outside, it can look like everybody is succeeding except for you, but that’s not even close to the case. Failure isn’t a bad thing; it helps you grow and learn. It’s like the baseball analogy — it’s not so bad if you bat 400 or 500, you’d be the best hitter in the league and as an entrepreneur, if you’re hitting at a pretty similar rate, that’s an awesome outcome and you’d be doing quite well!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m consulting and developing several of my own projects around the blockchain, crypto, and NFT space. That space is exciting right now and, to an extent, still untapped as to where it needs to get to. I’m very big on incentive structures and the premise of blockchain is having a line of incentive structures, so I’m excited to see that implemented correctly on a wider scale. Right now, some of these things aren’t clean enough or come across as too sketchy for the masses. But we are progressing to the level of mass adoption. I’m excited to see technology that will improve lives, evolve, and become more accessible to people right in their homes that wouldn’t have been otherwise.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. I’m sure you get this question all the time. But for the benefit of our readers, can you explain in your own words what an NFT is, and why people are spending so much money on them?
NFTs are simply digital assets that provide clear histories of ownership. It’s not that much unlike traditional assets like art, sports cards, or even a golden ticket like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The NFT provides you ownership to some asset that has value to it — whether that value exists because it’s good looking or has utility such as giving you access to the factory :) It’s the same concept, just technologically better than the old way of doing things which excites a lot of people.
The NFT industry seems so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Ultimately, it’s NFTs core technology that excites me rather than one particular NFT project. Eventually, the not-so-good NFTs are going to fade out predominantly because those creators aren’t making enough money to continue. In the long term, it will always revert to better quality projects.
- NFTs enable you to track provenance, historical ownership, and the creation of an asset which is very hard to do in the traditional alternative asset cloud. For example, it is hard to track the origin of an art piece.
- NFTs by their nature are digital. They avoid damage such as bent corners or spills, so all that worry goes away.
- NFTs are liquid. Easier to sell and that’s because you don’t have to have them checked, mailed, etc.
What are the 3 things that concern you about the industry? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?
There are definitely still some things that need to be ironed out.
- We’re still at the adoption point where it’s volatile. Many NFTs and assets a few months ago really started to go nuts. Prices went up so people got excited which makes sense because it’s exciting when there’s money to be made. But as an asset class, after that, many declined by 70–80% and while that’s not unusual for the general crypto space, it’s not something the next wave of potential adopters will be used to. However, I do think all curves eventually stabilize to the risk/rewards ratios that people seek at various stages.
- Another question — What happens to the core image? Where is it housed? We must make sure that people don’t lose that as the industry builds.
- On a short-term basis, these bad concepts or weird stories are coming out that put a black eye on NFTs. Anybody can come out and make a ridiculous NFT that makes a mockery of the industry. But I think that’s a short-term issue we’re seeing while people flock to where there’s money.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about NFTs? Can you explain what you mean?
The number one myth is “why can’t you just own the NFT, like a YouTube video, whenever?”. People struggle to see that NFTs aren’t that much different conceptually than traditional alternative assets such as art or baseball cards. They’re all subjective — why do any of them carry value? Well, because of the provenance, their history, and uniqueness. People like those things. The same mechanisms exist for NFTs; they just happen to be digital.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they enter the NFT industry? What can be done to avoid that?
When people enter the industry, they don’t think of it on a long-term basis, which is a mistake. People see volatility and get nervous. Asset owners will sell immediately due to the nerves. Taking a longer horizon is a good idea because this technology is really revolutionary.
Another mistake — creators just put something out there and think people will find it. That’s not how it works; that’s why advertising exists. You have to allow people to hear and learn about your product, otherwise, they won’t buy it or even know to buy it.
How do you think NFTs have the potential to help society in the future?
NFTs can be a fun, engaging mechanism in general, but they can help the mechanisms of ownership as well. They could be utilized for small businesses. For example, within the loyalty/reward mechanism that exists, a local restaurant or store could sell an NFT that provides early access to the store, a special dish, etc. which then provides an asset to show off as well as pure utility. There’s a common misconception that NFTs are only a piece of art or visual asset, but they can absolutely carry a utility as well. The NFT certifies that you have ownership and access to this utility.
Ok, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Plan out how NFTs will fit within what you do. People want to buy NFTs from entities that will have continued relevance/commitment to the NFT space. Determine where NFTs fit within your overall strategy.
- Determine which NFT format you want to produce. For example, is that image, video, etc.?
- Determine if you want to add utility to your NFTs. You want to give people special access in addition to owning the digital asset.
- Determine what your distribution strategy will be. Which platforms? Where will you sell?
- Determine your optimal marketing/PR strategy. How will you make people aware of the NFTs you’re producing?
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
A lot of people spend time on social media right now. The web has become this central area for a lot of hate or anger. It’s totally kosher to have debates on these platforms, but people need to come from a place of respect. There’s a real opportunity within the entrepreneurial community to further bolster and support people, especially since the entrepreneurial community can be quite lonely. Whenever entrepreneurs post and share what they’re doing, engage and respond with that. A little support can actually be hyper-crucial. I think we can do a much better job at supporting one another. That mechanism could further energize entrepreneurs to keep pushing and know they have a community which could lead to further innovations at the end of the day.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
I would not mind having lunch with Jay-Z. He’s an incredible person, extremely inventive. He’s able to see business angles that others don’t and has a really good gauge on where opportunities lie. I would love to sit down and learn from him.
Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!